2017-2018 Season Round One of the Open Competition (DPI) was an evening of considerable variety. The prints will be judged next session. Congratulations to Wendy Goodchild for her winning entry and thanks to our judges, multiple award winning husband and wife team Peter Brisley and Sue O’Connell, who are back next session to judge the prints. We have had to split the judging for this round because of the volume of DPI’s in particular, but the number of print entries, gratifyingly, is also up. Our thanks to our judges for being so accommodating.
What was striking was the variety of subjects and styles on display. This we can take as a good thing because we get to see other people’s interpretations of subjects we have almost certainly chanced our arms at in the past. There is also an advantage, not immediately obvious, in watching our and fellow club members progress over the course of a season. Thinking about what we do is an important part of developing our art. There is a difference between someone who has taken 10,000 photographs and learned from their mistakes and someone who has taken one set of mistakes and repeated them 10,000 times (with several, increasingly expensive, kit upgrades in the interim, no doubt). There is a difference between a photographer and a-bloke-with-a -camera after all. Well, most of the time, if not for everyone and increasingly for next-to-no-money whatsoever.
Yet we cannot get anywhere meaningful without the effort. There really aren’t “bad” cameras anymore. Ditto lenses. This rather points to the photographer as the weak link in the chain. At some point we want to be more than just the button pusher. Creativity requires effort and lots and lots and lots of practice. Not a blinding revelation and not the first time it has been mentioned on this blog, but certainly it is a truth of learning. Anything we learn pretty much follows that pattern. We know this so why not use it?
Critique, like we get in competition rounds, but not exclusively restricted to that, is a good source of fuel for our development. Structured in its delivery and used as a starting point, or rather a restarting point, if we were to take that image and again and apply the observations we have been given, would the image be more effective at relaying its story?
Like or dislike of an image is natural and almost instant. When sorting through a large number of images for editing or weeding a good rule of thumb is if it doesn’t hold your attention for two seconds (or more) bin it. Critiquing requires we go beyond the immediate reaction. Even the most experienced of judges can suffer a failure to understand. A good judge will be honest about this – and we are also our own judges so I am not just talking about club photo competitions – and give us a reason or set of reasons why not. But it will be structured and it will provide information we can consider the next time we have the camera out. The key is the word because. This is, absolutely, the key.
For sure critique needs a framework to be meaningful and for sure it is subjective, but there is no one method, and every time we look at it we take a slightly different path to reflect this. This might give the impression that it is not very effective. Yet no artist ever develops without nurturing one. The same way as having a purpose in taking the pictures we want rather than the pictures that present (that’s not to say we shouldn’t be open to the unexpected) is part of the same process.
Look at the opportunities the club presents. Practicals for sure, are pretty obvious. Ditto the competition rounds. Speakers are a chance to get ideas from, to look for alternatives and also to interact with the material presented, to say I like that because … or I don’t like that because … I would alter that … I will try that … how did they do … Whatever else, you cannot beat a bit of deliberate action.
And take lots of pictures.
And look at lots of pictures. There are plenty of sites on the web to give us ideas. Flickr, 500px and other general sites to more specific and curated ones, like the Magnum Agency and the stock photo sites like iStock or Shutterstock, or social media groups like those to be found on Facebook or sites like Instagram. Look, but look critically.
This last fortnight we have covered ROC round 3 and it was our turn for the WCPF prints, where we could exercise our own critiquing skills. This is always popular as members can be more involved than is necessarily the case on competition nights. On my table we got into some earnest questions not so much as which pictures we favoured but why that was so. Agreement wasn’t necessarily required, and we came to our 1,2,3 decisions for each category through a simple majority vote. That wasn’t really the point of it all though. The theming of those prints gave me an idea for this weeks blog.
When we look at other people’s work we are looking at other peoples way of seeing, which is not ours. Sounds deep. Essentially if we want to improve we have, at some time or other, to challenge our own way of seeing, discuss our way of seeing. Using the WCPF and viewing the competition work we can put that into some sort of perspective. Yes I like that – why? No I don’t like that – why not? The Japanese have a saying that if you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? Basically break down the reasons to the core. That teaches us something about our own preferences and we can, if we take note of these things, start to make a difference to our own work through it. Or, as I am sure I have quoted to you before: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – get it out with Optrex” (Spike Milligan). It has to be a conscious decision though, to do something about it.
Sounds like a slow process? Well it is. Our world is awash of nail-it-in-five-easy-lessons advice, yet that isn’t how humans learn. Sure you can get the basics right in about 20 hours but making the learning our own, that takes longer. Practice makes perfect as I am sure you have been told. Along with “Fail is just the First Attempt In Learning” and other useful things you want to strangle people for. And until we start to take on the critical eye, start taking and rejecting opportunities as part of a conscious effort, we just go round in one big circle until we are torpedoed by our own failed expectations. Bit like the sinking of the Bismarck.
But it’s a hobby. We do because we enjoy. There is no other compulsion than the one that gnaws at us to get the camera out of its bag and go shoot something (in the nicest possible way). There is always something on to point the camera at, the local “What’s On” tells us so. Left to the random too much can get missed or we end up trying to do too much in too little time. Opportunity generally isn’t a problem. Having a direction, some rails to run on, some clues as to what to look for, that is a great way of focusing the attention. Welcome to the world of the photo-project.
In its simplest form a photo project is a theme, a camera and a (regular?) space in the diary. There are as many projects as photographers, it seems, and that is because, to work, it has to be personal. We have to have some emotional attachment to what we are doing or it simply will not get done. The first point to take on board is that a 365 day project, a photo a day, sounds great when we start out but I am willing to bet that most of them don’t get completed, or get modified into something more suited to time and effort available. 30 day and 7 day projects are also popular and are more feasible. Timescale has a role to serve as we are effectively making an appointment with ourselves. The subject can be anything, but has to be something we have to put more than the usual amount of effort to complete. Then there are subject variations like: shoot 100 strangers (the serial killers favourite); A-Z; 52/26/12/any random number Photo-walks; pick a colour/theme; one focal length; the Roll of 12/24/36 (back to the old film days where you limit yourself to a film roll on a shoot); The 100 ISO challenge (fixed ISO can also be done with fixed aperture or speed); manual only focusing; plus a host of others.
Of course there is also the ongoing project, the one that lasts over months and years, that can involve deeper immersion in the subject where the style you develop adapts to the conditions your subject is most commonly found in. Osmosis, by and large is not a thing that produces results particularly quickly, if at all. The whole planned thing gets you thinking. The whole well I didn’t expect that thing we find when we get to a location challenges us to adapt. These two things help us develop but the third leg of the stool – looking critically at what other people have done and why we like it or what we would change about it and how we apply it to our own work- puts what we are trying to do in a context. That gives us something to learn and to improve with.
OK so this is based on a my-best-shot-is-my-next-one philosophy, but continuous development builds over time. It is about DELIBERATE practice. Now practice does not have to be devoid of fun, again I say this is our hobby, not our penance, but if we take Henri Cartier-Bresson’s point quoted in the last blog that “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst” we miss the point and that point is the our first ten thousand deliberate photographs are our worst. And that is OK. Deliberation is the difference, and that can be as simple as going through your latest batch of images and thinking “If I were to take that one again I would ….” and then doing it. That is where we came in. Five members of a photographic club sitting around a table deciding what attracts them to different photo’s, and why, as a basis of going out and doing something about it.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Club member Julie Kaye on underwater photography.
That time of year again and we made good use of the 100+ prints in the travelling critique by taking a clue from the title and doing a team critique. Split into four groups we did a round robin to see if the clubs judgements matched the WCPF’s. That there was some correspondence between our groups and the WCPF is suggestive of something, but how much that is fashion and how much is warranty of excellence is always going to be open to debate, which is why the WCPF have their own judging guidelines. By having such guidelines there is a basis for standardisation.
Standardisation produces a number of benefits. It provides a start point from where interpretations can be made and also provides a reference point that can be used on review. With something that has as much variation as photographic images – each one, after all is unique – the technical, basically the exposure triangle plus composition, represent the common variables. No, you cannot overcome people’s visceral likes and dislikes but you can have a common framework and if people are open about their likes and dislikes – and at least attempt to compensate for them – then you have room for an interpretive framework.
By having such an interpretive framework then notions of quality can be established – but only within the terms of the chosen controls. This blur factor is necessary in photography exactly for the reason outlined above. The uniqueness of each image. Replace unique with the term “Art”. Art is an expression, an attempt to, through the application of skill to materials to craft an object that conveys meaning in the estimation of an audience. It’s what we do in our club competitions. That is not going to be the same meaning in every viewer. To legislate for that is to tell people what to think, never a wholly successful enterprise. Thus we look to regulating, mostly, the application of craft and the bigger thing that creates, the art if you like, of the picture.
This rather raises the question of what purposes such art serves, what effect are we trying to create? Broadly, and I do mean broadly, this fits into three categories. The physical, the social and the personal. The physical relates on a scale from something to nothing. A fountain pen has a physical function, writing, but can also be a functioning work of art. Art is not measured by monetary value, as this example might suggest, the amount that someone is willing to pay and why they are willing to pay it is a function of value, present and future, something quite different. Money is just the way of keeping count. I frequently find use for a tea cup, way beyond most people by volume, but never yet a tea cup covered in fur. I have none because I have no use for them, at least the covered in fur part. I may understand, or attempt to understand, the symbolism of such a statement, I may even add one of my own (futility in case you were asking, though I suspect that was part of the original message), it doesn’t mean I am going to become a furrier to my tea service. The sum is greater than its parts.
The social looks to our notions of a shared life, rather like street photography does, or environmental portraiture, or even portraiture itself in some aspects, as opposed to one persons outlook. Think of the work of social photographers like those involved in the Farm Security Administration sponsored documentary of 1930’s Dust Bowl America. It wasn’t just a record for of the resettlement of those dispersed by a man made ecological disaster. It had a political dimension. War photography isn’t just about two militaries engaging in what Von Clausewitz called “The continuation of Politics by other means“. It has news (therefore commercial) value, it has deeply personal meaning for the photographers there, it can be a contact point for those who weren’t, it is about humanity at its opposites of best and worst. Above all it has a collective purpose.
The personal aspect is probably the most like nailing water, because it is subtly different from person to person. However, as hobbyists it is perhaps easiest to generalise that we take photographs – make art – for our own gratification, as matters of self expression, either to share an emotion or feeling or for no particular reason other than we can – or did. Still this has two aspects, what the photographer meant is not necessarily what the viewer sees and that is a good thing, because otherwise we wouldn’t employ our curiosity, probably the most successful of human characteristics, which is the same as gets us to come to a camera club to learn and share about our hobby.
Just goes to show what you can do with the exposure triangle and the rules of composition.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Annual General Meeting. Important because without one we don’t have a club, so please attend, members.
Some discussion last session, the sharing of the light trails outing, about what is and what is not a keeper. Should be easy yes? Well most of the reasons to reject an image are fairly obvious: incorrect exposure, out of focus, poor framing or all three. Except what one sees as fodder for the recycle bin another sees promise. I suspect it was ever so, from the first daubs on a cave wall there were, no doubt, discussions on what one could plainly see and another, just as plainly, could not.
As we are all aware the cost of taking another frame with a digital camera is very marginal, which both helps and hinders. It helps in that reframing a shot in refining the outcome isn’t then much of a cost consideration. Effective when it is done deliberately. Spray and pray, though it can get results, doesn’t get consistent results. Establishing whether you should have taken that shot in the first place is a bigger consideration if you are serious about improving your photography overall and that only when you take your own advice – and I don’t mean by taking the same photograph as everyone else. That is a goal that can only be achieved through persistence, the ability to be objective about an image and to repeat the exercise from a different angle. If you don’t do something different you will only get the same result. Yes it’s basic logic but it is also something that takes each of us a time to learn. This is, at least in part, because what we are learning (or failing to) changes. We deal with a shifting medium, light, that we have varying degrees of control over, from zero to total. Lighting, as many a cinema photographer or serious videographer will tell you, is often easier in theory than in practise.
OK so the lighting when you are on the city centre taking six to eight second exposures (sometimes longer) of moving lights you have no influence on doesn’t make for a great deal of control. What it does leave you in charge of, aperture, ISO, focal length and which way and from where you point the camera, gives you scope for sufficient variation to make a different photograph every time. It is also trial and error and to differentiate that from spray and pray you have to change one of these things. The environment might also help. For instance, the bus lane going south ends in a traffic island. I saw the potential for two things in this. One was an s-bend formation in the lights as the buses made their way towards Redcliffe, the other was a boomerang effect as some of the buses use the same roundabout to do a 180 and start the return journey.
As it turned out these were the two closest shots to keepers I got all night. Other members certainly got better. I didn’t get them first time and I couldn’t guarantee to be able to exactly replicate them the next time I am light trailing down there (it sort of gets under your skin as does most forms of light painting I find). I would dearly like to lose the lamp post sitting on the thirds of one of those shots and I am not 100% convinced, given the nature and spread of the light in the boomerang shot where there is quite a bit of diffusion, that I can convincingly edit in post. The obvious answer is to avoid it by getting in front of it and using a wider angle lens or crossing the street and shooting from the opposite pavement. They will, however, be very different pictures, because the perspective will be different. Notice I haven’t said better or worse, just different.
Getting the clutter out of the way helps us to focus on the subject. Shooting without the clutter in the frame in the first place saves us time. Don’t, as a default, shoot first and fix later, because you will end up making the same mistakes a habit, a stylistic tic. Such decisions, say shooting a wedding at a constant aperture to yield a continuity of style, is fine when deliberate, distinctive and adding value for the viewer. Otherwise it just keeps the recycle bin full, or sits there in the unloved space that could be better used of your hard disk.
Poor light, endemic to light painting, is a tough test for any auto focusing system and that shot can just pass you by in a faint whirr of a never focusing lens. Certainly low light focusing has come on in leaps and bounds, especially if you are in a position to splash the cash. The actual cause – which is also why a clear blue sky can be difficult to focus on – is the lack of contrast, because contrast is what your autofocus system needs, more accurately the boundary between two objects of different luminance. That said the camera you have is the camera you’ve got is the camera you are using and regardless of model actively and fully using the auto-focusing capabilities and manual focussing are useful skills to have in the armoury. Panning can also be a useful skill, but one that needs practice, and like many other photographic techniques has a simple base but comes with some useful variations, and gets better with practice. The trick is to know what you want in the finished product and to plan and execute accordingly. That in itself cuts down on the number of shots binned, is not to say avoid experimentation, which would be self defeating. Madness, as defined by Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
The whole essence of light trails is capturing movement on a still image. Light trails are vibrant, high contrast, busy blurs, they have a rhythm and a tempo not associated with say, a corporate style headshot, a formal portrait or, I hope, obviously, their antithesis, a still life. There is a single theme that links the whole gamut of photographs you can take, indeed every photography ever taken and that will be ever taken. Composition. If you want to make and take more keepers you need to practise your composition. You don’t have to wait to happen across a dramatic scene to do so, indeed it could be argued that that is the moment you most need your composition skills, you practice with anything to hand. The key is to move, just as I should have moved taking the boomerang picture. Maybe then I would have made a keeper, not a binner.
Back to School this week and the beginning of the Autumn programme. OK so it is still summer, officially, but we have the makings of a varied year ahead – Just look at the meetings calendar. So enter the competitions – all of them, attend the meetings and lets improve together. It’s a members club and that means we all have to put in to make it work out. Members showed some highlights of their summer break and it was good to see contributions from so many and such a wide range of topics and the differences in interpretation and angle from some of the same views, which set me thinking.
The power of the photograph is back in the news with the picture of the drowned infant refugee, Aylan Kurdi, being recovered on a Turkish beach by an unnamed Turkish Police Officer. It went around the world, was an instrument in flat footing the Prime Minister, and has had a big effect locally as well as internationally. A picture paints more than a thousand words when the raw nerves of humanity are touched, but even so not everything is always what it seems and one of the most famous war photographs of all time, that of a falling soldier in the Spanish civil war taken by Robert Capra has been under a cloud for the last forty years. It’s not isolated. Context is all. The plain and simple truth of a tiny broken body in the arms of a Turkish policeman speaks a thousand times a thousand words because a camera was there to record it and there are means to send that picture around the world in seconds.
There is no doubting of the power of the picture to provoke the imagination, to prod the memory and encapsulate stories, but let’s be honest here, that is not the point of taking pictures for most of the people most of the time – a record is what we want when the shutter is pressed. The stories we attribute can change over time as new experiences and new memories or new evidence comes to light. The fact is that we take the picture at face value, we don’t often, especially in family and friends photographs, take the framing, the post production and so on, at anything but face value. Our emotional connection over rides our critical faculties. “We seem to reinvent our memories, and in doing so, we become the person of our own imagination” (Elizabeth Loftus). Most of the time this does not matter. Different rules apply to the family photo album for the vast majority of people, wherein the contents are more precious to us, than to the curated representations of the truth presented to us by the serious press, and, by association, the not so serious press.
A good portrait shows character. A bold statement of something generally held to be true. Portraiture is a photographic staple, even if the reason some people buy a camera is to make sure they are behind it, not in front of it. Motivation adds to the power of a picture, at least to the photographer. The difference between the family snap and the professional portrait can be vast, (and we can learn the techniques of the differences for our own purposes) then there is more formality behind the latter than the former, so is it less true? “The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to untruth”, (Harold Evans). The image stays in the brain, even when the context is lost to us. You probably have no idea who the migrant Florence Owens Thompson was, but I am pretty sure you have seen her picture. The story behind that isn’t as straight forward as the photographer, (Dorothea Lange) recollected or noted at the time. The incidentals that make the picture worth taking don’t detract from the image itself, the uses it is put to, the responses it provokes, are other issues. Rarely is there one truth, mostly there are sundry truths.
So is showing more a greater aid to getting to the core truth behind an image? The environmental portrait, wherein the artefacts of a person’s life, or rather a section of it, show more of their character than the shallow depth of field and neutral background typical of the formal portrait. People are generally more relaxed in their own surroundings, more likely to be open when surrounded by the things they are familiar with. Yet we do not know them better, we just know more, or think we do. We have more information to work on, but a cluttered photograph, unless the clutter is the subject, can be distracting. Therefore we edit. We select. We make the story from the bigger picture. No sounds, no smells, more isolation and sometimes we can be grateful for that. Can the truth live in such a world?
So, assuming we are not out to change the world, though everything we do has some impact, does this matter? As creators, hobbyists, semi-professionals, professionals, it is the image that counts. We don’t really have too much to do with the notions of truth. We just take the pictures, produce the images, post them with varying degrees of public access and maybe care a little what others think, “For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2). We are not, for the most part, citizen journalists, but carrying a camera, any camera, may just make us so. We might not know when that photograph we took down the street yesterday might be of wider interest in years to come. It doesn’t all have to be based on drama, just piqued interest. The picture of Aylan Kurdi was taken by an Associated Press Photographer. His brother and mother also drowned. His home had been bombed out. These are all facts, all context to the photograph. It’s not a portrait. It’s not an environmental portrait. It’s not documentary in the way the Florence Owens Thompson photograph was (and that was one of six). If it’s within any category it lies in Social Realism which is broader than just photography. But it doesn’t draw on any of those traditions for its power in particular- and we can measure that by its effect. The photograph itself sits at the junction of time, place, mass conscience and social action. It is a trigger to bigger things. There have been others. Every photograph has a potential it just needs a context.
New feature to the club evenings, last Thursday saw the introduction of Your Picture Your Way where club members brought in pictures they may not otherwise have shared with the club and explained their connections to it. The themes were landscape and street and though the interpretations were broad the insights were interesting.
Landscape photography goes back to the very first photograph, taken by Nicéphore Niépce, and has its roots in classical art whereas Street photography, rather than Street Portraiture which is posed from people in the street, is in the moment and distinctly the product of a photographic process. Only a camera can capture the complex juxtapositions, expressions and emotional connection in a fraction of a second. It is unique, at the moment anyway, to photography and because it is a single slice of time, specifically stills photography. Of course there is the view that street photography was invented by people who couldn’t get up early enough to shoot a sunrise, but we will let that lie.
There are two sides to any photograph, regardless of the genre, namely the artistic and the technical. Landscape can be as much about pre-visualisation as it is about the composition when you get there. It is about nature and the way the elements combine to affect the Earth’s landmass. The way the seasons present and the light falls means that a single view can provide an infinite number of subtleties for the photographer to chose from – or ignore. The elements for the street photographer can be, or at least seem to be, chaotic in the sense that physicists refer to chaos, a complex system of so many parts acting in unpredictable ways that any outcome is as likely as another. Those parts are people acting out their internal and external lives in a common space. The chaos comes from our not knowing how those internal and external lives interact on an individual by individual basis – we may not even be aware of our own balances and motivations – and how they effect those around them emotionally and environmentally. In that sea of uncertainty where we all swim moments of connection arise and those are the moments that the Street Photographer seeks to capture.
No matter how good your grasp of the technical is, if you can’t actually see the picture, frame the picture, compose the picture you can never take the picture. This is simply why a good photographer with a cheap camera gets consistently better results than a mediocre one with the top of the range. There are no qualification barriers to buying expensive kit, of course, nor would I advocate one, but there is no substitute for technique. “Luck” won’t cut it, especially as you tend to make your own as was discussed on an earlier blog on serendipity. Even chaos theory allows that the biggest factor in determining what will happen (an outcome) is the initial set of circumstances from which it springs. Control what you can to discover the art in the rest goes for both Landscape and Street photography.
But not every subject wants their photograph taken and not every landowner wants your feet trampling their daises and not every property owner is delighted to have you take photographs of their property. There are buildings and areas that are off limits to the public and there is a lot of confusion over what you can and cannot take photographs of. Common sense plays a part here but once an image is taken in a public space the only power to legally remove it is via a court order. This is a matter for individual conscience. You should note that laws covering criminal damage, nuisance and anti social behaviour still apply, that access to mountain, moor, heath, down and common land in England and Wales (different laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland) is permitted but the above laws govern those activities. Trespass is still an offence. The Official Secrets Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (especially Sections 43 and 58A) are, with a little forethought, quite easily avoided, though it is surprising and not a little depressing the number of times that the Association of Chief Police Officers have had to reissue there guidance over the last decade or so. Censorship is a fact of life, it is a fluid situation, but it need not be onerous, at least in the UK. If abroad, then it is a whole different ball game. Find out and stick to their rules.
So what did we learn from our fellow members photographs? Well I doubt there was a consensus as each of us will have seen slightly different things and taken different things from each image – and thank you for sharing those that did. So a brief list from me from a couple of discussions I had at tea break and at the end of the evening.
From the technique side, don’t be afraid to use the camera on auto for Street if the situation demands it. It is pointless in not getting the shot because you are fiddling with the settings because you always shoot manual (really? In this day and age?) when aperture and shutter priority modes give you almost the same degree of control, more quickly and auto will give you a more than half way decent approximation in most situations, though sticking to just one as opposed to having a range of options does suggest that you have some exploration of your camera to complete (Guilty. My camera sends nearly all its time in aperture priority because the ISO button is handy and the exposure compensation is the next button to it).
Don’t be afraid to try it, either landscape or street. A little planning goes a long way. If you don’t practice it then it won’t get better. Take one aspect at a time and practice it, be that a single focal length, shallow depth of field, high depth of field, low angle, there are many different things to try.
Look around the view finder before you push the shutter, should you reframe? Move your position? Something else?
All round an enjoyable evening. See you Thursday.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: Kingswood Salver table top night – Collectables. Bring your collectables and CAMERAS as we launch our campaign for this years Kingswood Salver.
Last meeting Mark Stone , in a well attended meeting, took us through some editing options he uses on Light Room and Photoshop. Mark is a big fan of black and white, not to the exclusion of colour, but he has a strong affinity to the ascetic and opportunities that black and white presents, so it is this that we will investigate a little further this week.
Black and white photography happened first of course. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s heliograph taken at his estate in 1826-27 gives a barely legible but still discernable image of a stand of trees, fixed in bitumen (Daguerre used copper plate, Fox-Talbot was the first to fix an image on paper), but since the invention of colour – which had a long gestation period – it has gradually receded to niche and specialist markets. To its fans and I am certainly one, it is too often overlooked (guilty), or most people who occasionally venture that way look upon as a fix for images that didn’t work but still have something but you are not sure what (“Taking the fifth” on that one, well shoot in colour and edit to black and white is my excuse). Incidentally that is a two way street. There is no doubt that there is a skill to looking at an image as a black and white one from the off.
Some people might think that there is a certain nostalgia attached to monochrome that is a bit off-putting and reeks of chemicals and cardigans and people (men mainly) sucking on their dentures and complaining that things aren’t like they used to be. Certainly they are not. It’s called progress. The darkroom and its arcane ways have fallen from popular use. Photography as a whole, with the digital revolution, has become far more democratic and personally I think that a good thing. This, however, is the science and we are talking here about the art. If, on the other hand, you have used a dark room over some time, then there is a pretty good chance that you keep a warm place in your heart for those processes, for the choices of paper and the effects they have on the final image (for the uninitiated it evolves mainly, but not entirely, around the question of how black is black) for the magic of the image appearing on the paper. Black and white was far cheaper and a lot less complex than colour. Not many people go back though, at least not exclusively. Digital can be just as good.
As I said, this about the art (you’ll remember that argument from last week), the perceptions, that the image creates in the viewer. In black and white contrast is king, but across a spectrum shaded in grey. Subtlety is the greater part of it. That is not to say that extremes don’t have a part to play, it is part of the process of selection that forms the backbone of the monochrome discipline – and yes that is something which can be about post production, but as with everything else, it can’t all be about post production; the initial pre-shutter decisions are still hugely important. Black and white is about texture, forms and contrast above all. When these are the most important things in an image then black and white is the medium of choice, but it remains a subjective choice. Primarily these elements become important because when you remove colour from a photograph these elements are what lead the eye.
Texture, the consistency of a surface in a photograph defined by its irregularities, provides us with basic information that we can use to comprehend what that object is or made of. It can be more important than what that actual object is especially in abstract. Form, the three dimensional representation of an object (shape is 2D), especially in the absence of colour, is probably the biggest clue we get to what we are looking at and contrast, of course, is important in all forms of photography. Black and white concentrates the eye on the intensity and differential qualities in light to a higher degree than in colour (colour, of course being the most striking and the most absent of the elements of design in monochrome).
So it helps to concentrate on lines, shadows and shapes, not ignore the basic rules of composition (master them before you break them), plan ahead and practice, practice practice! There are advantages to shooting in colour (you can always revert to it) and there are advantages in using a RAW format – as per the above plus there is more scope for capturing tones across a range of light and dark in the same frame. There is no particular reason why you shouldn’t use JPEG should you so wish, but, as always, you have lesser latitude to edit with. It also helps to know the effects of colour filters on the image, which can easily be applied post production, or by simply fixing one to the front of your lens.
We have another round of the ROC in the new year, so why not use that as a chance to get some feedback on your black and white photography? Better yet, black and white is December’s Flickr competition topic.
CONGRATULATIONS to our esteemed chair on his MBE collected Thursday last awarded for his work with youth via the Air Training Corps. Well done and well earned Maurice.
Time is running out but there are still places on the WOODLAND shoot. See Myk.
December 11th – The second round of this year’s Reflex Open Competition (ROC) will be judged tonight.
December 18th – Christmas social evening. To quote Mark S (again):
” Thursday 18th December is our Christmas Social. We’re planning on doing an American Supper style evening which means we’d like you to bring some food & drink. So that you don’t all bring in a pack of Scotch Eggs we’ve created a list that will be on the sign in desk each week up until the 18th. If you’d like to take a look at what is on the list just peek at the PDF attached to this post.
8TH January 2015“What Christmas Means to me” & Mounting Prints
See everyone’s images from our Christmas Challenge of “What Christmas Means to me” followed by a demonstration on how to mount your photographs.
I bet your wondering what this “What Christmas means to me” thing is as you’ve possibly never even heard it mentioned at the club before. Well now I’ve had it explained to me with a handy infographic I can explain it all to you. Well actually no I’m not instead you can follow this link and read all about it as that’s exactly the same way I found out what it was!
15th January 2015: Club Battle, Bristol Photographic Society (Away).